One man's little tractor is another man's riding lawn mower

When I left the Anchorage Times in 1986 to return to the Lower 48, a co-worker presented me with a copy of E.B. White's book "One Man's Meat."

If you are a fellow fan of the gifted writer, you are familiar with his book of essays about operating a Maine saltwater farm after leaving the Big Apple. Although first published more than 60 years ago, it remains a humorous yet insightful primer for neophyte farmers.

White's wit and wisdom never loses the elements of style, pun intended. After all, he was a real farmer.

His essays weighed heavy on my mind the other day while I was driving a tractor along the sidewalk of West Main Street in Medford.

Actually, it wasn't quite a tractor. It was a riding lawn mower, though it looks like a little tractor.

And it wasn't entirely on the sidewalk, since that may run afoul of the law.

Part of the drive may even have been on the street, if that passes muster with the local constabulary.

If either was illegal, then the badged folks can shrug this off as just another one of my Walter Mitty daydreams. My wife can certainly vouch for my flights of fancy. It's very sad.

In any case, this daydream lasted four blocks.

It all began when friends of ours, Bob and Penny, told Maureen about their friends who were moving from Central Point to Germany. It seems the Deutschland-bound folks were selling all their belongings, including farm-like implements.

"They even have a little tractor that would be perfect for us," my wife said. "You've always wanted a tractor."

She described it as green with a steering wheel, a seat and nifty cutting blades on the bottom for mowing grass.

"That's a riding lawn mower — that's not a bona fide tractor," I sniffed. "No real farmer would ever be caught driving one of the those."

"Bona fide or not, think of all the work it would save you," she said.

She had me there.

For the past two years I've been using a cranky, gas-powered, weed-cutting machine you have to push to clearcut nearly an acre that came with a small commercial building we bought in Medford.

In fact, the parcel seems to be growing. Last time I cut it, it was pushing three acres. No telling how large it is going to get if I don't get it under control.

We're talking hard labor here, the kind prison wardens use as a threat to keep ax murderers from going ape in the big house. God knows I'm about to go bananas over the endless mowing.

Hot, sweaty and miserable doesn't even touch the surface of this finest of miseries. Then, if 20 minutes of pulling the starting rope finally brings the machine coughing to life, the real work starts.

It usually takes several weekends of copious sweating to complete the job, since fire danger invariably dictates an early shut-off time each day. Like I said, such misery knows no equals.

And that doesn't include the acreage we need to mow on the home front.

The thought of riding along in the morning breeze while humming "Oklahoma!" on a machine I could start by simply turning a key was mighty appealing. Moreover, it would take only a few hours to cut the growing Back 40 behind the commercial shop down to size.

We became the proud owners of a used tractor lite and took it to a great little fix-it place near Maureen's shop. A few minor mechanical problems were quickly repaired. It was good to go.

It would make short work of the field in town. In less than two hours the work was done. No sweat.

But then I had to drive it to the shop, via the sidewalk or the street, whichever it was that is legal.

Yessiree Bob, I had all the accoutrements of a true tiller of the soil: blue jeans, T-shirt, boots and baseball cap.

That's when a young fellow driving what appeared to be a farmer's pickup truck rolled down his window and yelled, "Yeeee haw! Waaaa hoooo!" His boisterous chortle filled the street, causing everyone to gawk at the goof on the riding mower.

I pulled my cap a little farther down, snarled a few blasphemies my buddies back in the Marine Corps would have appreciated, and drove on to the Back 40.

I bet E.B. didn't have to put up with such public ridicule. Then again, he was bona fide.

Reach reporter Paul Fattig at 541-776-4496 or e-mail him at pfattig@mailtribune.com.

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